Charges dismissed against man once convicted of assaulting Atlantic City officer
Charges have been dismissed against a man convicted of assaulting an Atlantic City police officer, after the state failed to disclose information about the officer. Mohamed El-Laisy had claimed self-defense in a 2011 fight inside a casino nightclub after the officer attacked him. A jury found otherwise in 2017, convicting him of aggravated assault. He was given two years’ probation and got an early release. But the jurors were not told that the officer, Sterling Wheaten, was the subject of two ongoing Internal Affairs investigations, including the 2011 incident involving El-Laisy. The other was an open FBI investigation related to a 2013 arrest outside the Tropicana that resulted in Connor Castellani needing 200 stitches to close up head wounds caused by Wheaten’s k-9 dog. Wheaten has since been arrested on federal charges in that case, alleging he deprived Castellani of his civil rights and falsified the related police report. In a 253-page deposition in that case, Wheaten invoked his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself more than 1,400 times, which averages to more than 5½ times per page. That included questions specifically about El-Laisy’s case. The defense was not informed at all. “Defendant argues that these non-disclosures, as well as the officer’s false statement that (Internal Affairs) had ‘cleared’ him of all allegations, violated Brady v. Maryland,” the appellate judges wrote. “We agree that the failure to disclose the ongoing investigations into the officer’s conduct and his testimony in the civil suit violated Brady and reverse.” But when the case returned to Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Patricia Wild, the Prosecutor’s Office — now under different leadership — opted not to retry the case. The charges have now been dismissed. El-Laisy’s record now has been cleared. “We’re extremely happy that justice was finally served,” said his attorney, Robert Gamburg.
Officer Sterling Wheaten testifies about how officers are trained to de-escalate a situation.